Jim Amidon — I was rushing across the Wabash campus last Thursday — running behind, as usual — when a student approached me.
“Do you work here?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“For very long?” he inquired
“Yes, almost 19 years,” I told him.
“Were you a student before that?” he wondered.
I told him I was and at this point in the conversation with my wristwatch ticking away, I needed to speed things along. I asked him how I could help.
He shrugged his shoulders, looked around at the blue skies and budding crabapple trees, and finally had the courage to ask his primary question:
“Is this really the hardest time of the year? I mean, I’m just a freshman, but…”
I cut him off to put him out of his misery. “Yes,” I said, “when the weather warms up and the grass turns green, all you want to do is be outside goofing off with your friends. But the last two weeks will make or break your semester.”
He wanted to know how to get through it — how to focus on finishing papers and preparing for exams, while not wanting to spend a single minute in class or his study room.
My advice for this frustrated, but honest young man was: head for the library basement, find a table buried in the stacks. There, I told him, he couldn’t tell if it was day or night, sunny or raining. There, I suggested, he could find his focus.
We chatted a few minutes longer and I ran to my next stop. I saw the young man the next day and asked him how he was doing.
“I got three papers finished yesterday. Thanks for the advice!”
I only relate this story in such detail because for those of us who have been around Wabash for a long time and see mid-April as the beginning of the end of a long year, our students face a brutal challenge.
They must find focus and do so when — for the first time in six months — the weather is decent enough to play golf, throw a Frisbee, take a hike at Turkey Run.
Guys who really want to succeed and end the year with a bang must force themselves to resist nature’s urges to come outside; they find a study table in the library or their study room and hit the books. Those who don’t find that focus face the very real possibility that the previous 16 weeks of work will have been for naught.
What I told the young man —†in addition to my secret study spot in the basement of the library — was that he needs to take a regular look at his wall calendar. By doing so, he’ll realize there are only two more weeks of classes; two more weeks of hard work and sacrifice.
He understood what I meant and said, “You know, I have a chance to get a 3.3 GPA if I don’t mess it up.”
The young man reflected on all the hard work he had done to this point and made the tough decision (remember how nice it was last Thursday?) to stay inside to finish his papers.
That’s the type of discipline most freshmen don’t possess. They learn it over time at Wabash and if they don’t they typically won’t graduate. It often boils down to something that simple.
That discipline and focus is also, I think, the key to the success of our alumni. You can’t get very far in this world if you lack the discipline and focus to complete projects on time; to sacrifice the desire for instant gratification for long-term success.
I’m glad I ran into that young man and I’m happy we spent 10 minutes talking. But I’m not sure who got the greater lesson: the young man seeking advice or the guy who gave it. The encounter served as a helpful reminder to me, too.